Pastor and Head of Staff
“I can think of no more exciting place to be in ministry than Western!”
Drawn to a congregation that appreciates cultural diversity and our welcoming and open-minded faith, Laura Cunningham came to Western Church as Pastor/Head of Staff in May of 2015. Dedicated to preaching and worship – to discovering Jesus as we are “opened up” by Scripture – Laura is a lifelong Presbyterian with a heart for the “spiritual but not religious.” A native Atlantan, she has served congregations from Memphis, TN to Pearl River, NY, with stops in South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and D.C.
Beyond the local church, Laura serves on the National Capital Presbytery’s Leadership Council. She has advocated for those without a permanent home, worked for full LGBTQ inclusion in the church and beyond, and collaborated with inter-faith clergy. She received both her MDiv and DMin degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary outside Atlanta, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees. She is also a graduate of Davidson College.
Laura makes her home in Arlington with her husband Scott Ramsey, pastor at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, and two children Will and Ginny. She enjoys running and doing yoga and all things dark chocolate. If she had to say what she hopes to live by, it would be “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself, and everything else will follow.” Her theology reduced to two words? Love wins.
Program and Support Staff (by last name)
Rev. Irene Vinyard Bennett and Rev. Dr. Phillip Bennett
Coordinators for Congregational Care
The Reverend Doctor Phillip Bennett and Reverend Irene Vinyard Bennett, better known as Phil and Irene, are graduates of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville KY and have served Baptist churches and agencies in eight states and Hong Kong. As educational ministers, writers, and editors, they have created curriculum, been national leaders, and preached and taught in many countries around the world. The Bennetts have visited Western ever since their daughter, Malissa Bennett, and her husband, David Berezansky, joined more than a decade ago. Now, in retirement, they live in Alexandria VA and participate regularly in our church life.
Jess comes to Western as a Candidate (certified ready for a call) and with a background in graphic design and ministry. She has worked as a freelance designer and now brings her creative gifts to the church as she seeks ordination. She graduated from Roberts Wesleyan College (Rochester, NY) with a BS in Visual Arts with a concentration in Graphic Design and from Wesley Theological Seminary with a M.Div. In bringing the visual arts into the work of the church, Jess hopes to help faith communities better tell and experience the story of God’s work in the world.
Jess will be working part time with regular office hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Housekeeper and Nursery Caregiver
Ana joined Western’s staff in 2006. She enjoys helping to make Western a warm and welcoming place of hospitality by cleaning, making coffee each morning, and helping in the nursery and kitchen on Sundays. Ana finds joy in caring for our littlest ones during worship. Originally from El Salvador, Ana is mother to two daughters and one son and has seven grandbabies she loves to spend time with.
Assisting Ana Granados in Western’s Nursery on Sunday mornings is Bereneta Juma, better known by her nickname of Neta. Born in Kenya, Neta cared for the three children of a U.S. diplomat in Nairobi. When the diplomat returned to the U.S., Neta came with the family. Neta remembers the chaos of trying to get her green card after 9/11, which would have enabled her to go/come from visiting family back home. She studied very hard for her citizenship test in 2014 and is proud to have become an American citizen! The diplomat’s children are all grown up, so she now enjoys being with Western’s infants and toddlers on Sunday mornings.
Nancy has been a member of Western Presbyterian Church since 1983. She served as Western’s Bookkeeper from 1996 through 1999, and returned to the position of Assistant Treasurer/Bookkeeper in 2002. Nancy served as the Facilities Director and IT Manager at WRI from 1983 until 2016.
Dr. Allan Laino
Director of Music Ministry
A member of the choral and conducting faculty at Catholic University, Allan served most recently as Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Michael Poplar Springs Church in Mt. Airy, MD. He received his doctorate from the University of Maryland and he has also been Associate Director of The Reston Chorale. In fall 2018, in addition to joining us at Western, Allan will work with The Washington Chorus as Assistant Conductor as they prepare for their Kennedy Center concert with the NSO.
A West Coast native, Allan brings extensive experience as both a teacher and a singer, as well as a commitment to church music that creates, in his words, experiences of “joy, thankfulness, sorrow, healing, hope and love.” Also a skilled accompanist, Allan has demonstrated leadership with groups ranging from high school choirs to opera studios to chorales of seasoned singers. In a tribute video by former students, one says, “you taught me to appreciate what music can be.” Allan is married to Crossley Hawn, also an accomplished vocalist. They live together in Hyattsville.
Allan will be working part time with regular office hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons.
Shenella McGaskey has been a faithful presence at Western Presbyterian Church since September 2000. Her lively, behind-the-scenes job includes preparing the Sunday-morning Order of Worship; maintaining the Master Calendar for wedding dates and committee room assignments; and handling phone calls when church members need to reach Rev. Laura quickly in a moment of need.
Beyond that, she graciously buzzes in visitors from the street; handles flower donations; and is the go-to person when the copy machine breaks down. She is also unflappable in handling emergency situations–as demonstrated on 9/11, when Western became the emergency child-care pick-up point for State Department employees!
College Age Coordinator
Luke comes to us from New Jersey. He is a third year student at the George Washington University studying Political Science and Psychology. He is interested in history and learning more about different faith communities. Luke is the oldest of eight children and looks forward to becoming more involved at Western!
Building and Facilities Manager
Sterling comes to us most recently from George Mason University where he worked as a Senior Facilities Manager for the Office of Housing and Residence Life. Prior to that, he worked for 10 years for the Architect of the Capitol as Assistant Superintendent of the House Office Buildings. Sterling has experience with building systems and area contractors. He has supervised housekeeping and skilled crafts workers, and worked with demanding constituencies, including students and members of Congress. He was drawn to Western’s mission and the prospect of working with church members as well as the many users of and visitors to the building. The Building and Facilities Manager position will be half-time, and Sterling will be responsible for some hands-on work as well as coordinating and supervising other contracted work.
Rev. Dr. John Wimberly
After serving Western as pastor for 30 years, John Wimberly is now a congregational consultant with The Congregational Consulting Group. He lives in Washington, D.C.
As a young man, Gaston came to D.C. from Madison County, Virginia. His first job was working for Colonial Parking, where one of his fellow employees happened to be a member of Western Presbyterian Church! The fellow employee was also a part-time carpenter, who recognized Gaston’s talent for fixing things.
In November 1960, when Western needed a new sexton (at its old location near H & 19th), Gaston was introduced to then-Rev. Stewart McKenzie. A handshake with Rev. McKenzie sealed a faithful commitment which lasted 58 years before Gaston’s retirement in 2018.